Guys, sports, and parenting series #7
I remember when we all stood nervously staring at this strange contraption our mothers had been required to buy for us. A few had begun to try and put it on when coach walked in. In his booming voice he grabbed a jock strap out of the nearest hand and said, “It goes on this way guys to keep your balls from getting stepped on”. After a limited but sufficient demo he handed it back and walked out. That’s all we needed to know. Stand down battle stations, crisis averted.
Coach was great and he’d been working with middle schoolers for a long time. He had learned to approach any subject that needed to be talked about and had a great sense of timing. He avoided some of the macho tough guy stuff, like making the jock thing an embarrassing joke as we struggled to figure it out, but was still tough himself and had a way of making us tougher than we naturally would be.
He had learned that walking in on the first time we were suiting up and providing a demo was all we needed to know. For that kind of help, we were grateful to Coach and became fans of Coach. His timing was great and often timing is very important in teaching lessons.
I believe that we have a great timing opportunity to influence our kids that we need to be aware of and take advantage of. From the ages of about 2 or 3 until kids hit puberty (depends on the kid but about 11 years old) they are especially tuned to learn from dad, mom and their care givers (Doughty, 2011). The requirement is that care givers have to be involved and willing to talk about issues.
The challenge is that at puberty, our kids will want to identify with their peer group more than they want to identify with us as parents. This makes total sense as they will spend the rest of their lives working with, befriending, and having relationships with their peer group. Nature has designed our development in such a way that we make a strategic switch of who we want to spend time with in order to help us enter more successfully into adulthood.
My encouragement is that like Coach, we need to take every opportunity to talk with our kids about what they need to know before puberty. During this time period, our kids will tend to accept our values and beliefs in a way that they won’t accept them once puberty takes place.
This means that having the sex talk in 7th or 8th grade, as was popular when I was a kid, is way too late. We ought to be straightforward about sex from when our kids are very young. There will come an opportunity when your child sees a relative, friend, neighbor, or someone on TV be pregnant. What a great opportunity to talk about how that happened and to be straight forward about the details. If the pregnant person is a teenager, make sure you talk about that choice some of the challenges they will face and let them know your perspective while making sure you don’t associate shame with a very normal human activity.
This applies to not just sex, but drugs, saving money, using credit, human trafficking, politics, religion, personal safety, automobile safety, pride, in vitro fertilization, scam artists, sexual orientation, buying a car, comparing cell phone providers, why walks are important, honoring veterans, and I could go on and on and on. In other words you have a number of years of opportunity to let them know how you view the world, and they are primed to listen to you, just like we were primed to listen when we were standing there holding a jock strap.
Please don’t think that they will engage in deep conversations. Sometimes they might, but a lot of times they will simply say “Okay” or “Hmm” or be quiet. Even though you may not think you see enthusiasm for all of those topics, they are listening and learning.
Besides waiting too late for these conversations, there is another mistake we can make, and that is not being involved in their lives for a length of time. Kids are looking for someone to follow. If dad, mom, or their caregivers don’t have time for them, they will find someone else to follow. That someone else might be a gang, or someone that is not a positive influence. We need to consistently spend time with our kids and talk to them about everything.
There are many aspects of our children’s development that makes them especially suited to learn from us as dads. Take it from Coach that over and over again you will see chances to talk about all kinds of issues, and the timing is especially right when these talks take place before puberty. Remember the jock strap talk, how it helped, and do the same for your kids! Keep it real, Coach!
Doughty, R. (2011). Fulfilled Kids, Fulfilled Parents. Portland, FTF Press.